Plot thickens! Dirty tricks! Amazing scenes! Media blackout!
Someone has done the dirty on Don Chipp and Crikey's independent Melbourne City Council correspondent Terry Maher is keen to find out whether it was someone from the P1 or P2 camps.
That was before Weeping Wednesday. On Weeping Wednesday, Age journo Gary Hughes waltzed into Don Chipp and Rilka Warbanoff's Queen Street war room with a dirty dossier about Rilka's unfortunate business dealings with a company called Australis Fashions ten years ago in Adelaide. Australis went down the gurgler with liabilities of $515,702 in December 1991 and Rilka hadn't told Chippy about it because she didn't think it was "significant".
The Chipp campaign suffered significant collateral damage from Hughes' subsequent revelations in Thursday's Age. By Friday, The Age was running a leader saying that it was wrong in supporting the Don's candidature for lord mayor in a previous extremely supportive leader and concluding that: "As aspirants for these posts, Mr Chipp and Ms Warbarnoff have not demonstrated their credentials as impressively as they might."
So, it's goodbye Mr Chipp! Or is it?
Gary Hughes does not normally cover the urban affairs round for The Age. He was said to be extremely upset at confronting the Don and Rilka was his muck file on Weeping Wednesday. He was said to be most apologetic about delivering the swift kick in the guts to the Don's last stand.
We don't know who "feed" Gary the dirt dossier on Rilka. Journalists don't disclose their sources but it is highly unlikely that Gary just happened to be doing research for a Ph.D. thesis into trustees appointed under the Bankruptcy Act in Adelaide in 1991 when he suddenly came across Rilka's indiscretion and subsequent sin of omission.
It is more likely that the Rilka dirt file fell off the back of a truck that just happened to be going past Gary's house coming from the direction of either P1 or P2 the people with more to lose if the Don got up under a groundswell of popular support.
What isn't in question is that the Don and Rilka's campaign has been subjected to a sustained whispering campaign designed to destabilise their push for the plush seats at the Town Hall in Swanston Street.
Your correspondent has heard many "reports" that the Don has Alzheimer's disease. But when we spoke to him last weekend about which footy team he supported, he recalled in great detail about going to a certain game between Carlton and Footscray at Western Oval in the 1970s, paying to go into the Outer in front of this correspondent and that "I don't do that any more, because that day I got into a fight with a Footscray fan in the Outer."
Hardly, conclusive evidence of Alzheimer's, I would have thought. More disturbing than this claim are nasty, surreptitious suggestions that the Don and Rilka are being targeted for anti-Semitic reasons.
If this were true, it would be an appalling development... No one raised the issue at Rilka and the Don's community forum on Thursday in Queen Street. No one would want to raise again if they know what's good for them and what's bad for them.
The Don and Rilka are "damaged goods" only in relation to the Australis Fashions revelations. Nonetheless, his primary vote has probably taken a 10 per cent hit. Someone has blood on his hands and we will be doing our damnedest to bring them to account.
Politics is a contact sport but you don't hear me talking about Stephen Mayne being a fruitcake who couldn't run a chook raffle because I have better sense than that.
Meanwhile on the hustings, P1 has responded to your correspondent's challenge last week to be transparent about the possibility that Premac Nominees Pty Ltd, RJM Managers Pty Ltd or the Barnato Unit Trust, which Peter McMullin has declared a beneficial interest in, may also have a beneficial interest in the Spotless Group Ltd.
P1 says the answer is in the negative: "They are all personal. One is my super fund, one owns a building and one is the family trust. I am proud of my father in founding Spotless but I decided many years ago that I didn't want to follow him down that same path and that I wanted to become a lawyer," he said.
He has also denied he had anything to do with Spotless being awarded the City of Melbourne Parks and Gardens contract for the area from the Yarra River to the Shrine of Remembrance in 1998-99. "It's completely false," he said. "The only Spotless contract that came up when I was last on council was the Town Hall venue management contract and I stood down from that decision after declaring my perceived conflict of interest. I intend to follow the same procedure on the next council when other Spotless contracts arise."
P1 acknowledges that P2 is his major threat to the robes and chain of office in Swanston Street. He says that P2 has no policy listed on his website. We pointed out to P1 that P2 had put up an 11-point policy on his website that very day and read them to him.
P1 said P2's policy statements were all "motherhood stuff" and that the Melbourne metro media have been conspicuous in their absence in the debate. Hear, Hear!
P1 did venture down Lygon Street to whistlestop on Saturday morning and your correspondent saw him in deep discussion with Cr Martin Brennan, who was having a relaxed latte outside of Cafe51 Universita. P1 said that Cr Brennan was pretty relaxed about giving up the main chance that P1 was seeking.
He also encountered former LM Allan Watson in a despondent mood about what it all means to the great unwashed. Watson's Responsible Ratepayers ticket wants better parking facilities for Lygon Street and a more civil attitude from the traders at the Queen Victoria market.
He also encountered his favourite councillor, Cr Joanna Pace, selling her wares for the For A Better City ticket. "I'm standing against politics and personalities. I just want to produce good policies and implement them. I've been the hardest working of all the councillors on the last council. Vote for me," she said. I probably will. (Ed: Hey, what about Peoplepower.org.au's Greg Hoy for council? You wanna get paid for this stuff?)
Meanwhile, your correspondent's head was turned to the real issue that was dominating Lygon Street on Saturday. Starbucks is coming to town and setting up in the old National Bank building in the middle of the Street. Graffiti on the building referred to Starbucks as "the evil empire" that was coming to take away your coffee. "Nobody ever looked sophisticated sitting in a franchise outlet," said one sticker.
They sure know how to kick you in the guts in this town. More to follow when you start to get your postal voting slips in the mail this week.
And now let's look at Terry's previous column.
Lions each Christians at Preference Colosium
All over Melbourne at the weekend, the preference cornflour was steadily thickening the plot of the Melbourne City Council election mixture.
Deals were being done both within and without of deals. Ticket jockeys and backroom number-crunchers were playing snakes and ladders with the political fortunes of the 135 candidates standing for the nine seats on council.
This maleficent backstabbing and bribery session will continue right up to the 4.00pm deadline for the final indication of preferences and changes to the Group Voting Tickets (GVTs) on Monday (June25).
Then will come the great period of tears, gnashing of teeth and raw anger when the many candidates some sweet, some young, none innocent finally realise that in the process, they have been shafted or, worse still, they have shafted themselves.
Early indications are that the Greens, People Power and the Civic Group will all preference Peter McMullin's Living Melbourne ticket while So, Ferne, Lee and Chipp are tending to favour Peter Sheppard's Make Melbourne Shine ticket.
Nothing, whatsoever, should be read into these early indications. There is more shifting sand out there than in the Simpson Desert. Always remember the old anarchist slogan that no matter who you vote for, a politician always gets in.
In desperation, your correspondent thought it would be a good idea to poll the lord mayor candidates on which footy team they barracked for. Melbourne's citizens might be reticent about disclosing their political, religious and sexual preferences but they are not usually backward in coming forward about which AFL team they root for.
The results of this Crikey poll are incomplete but if you can't judge a book by its cover, you can certainly judge a lord mayor candidate by the team he supports. Here we go: Peter Sheppard (formerly Fitzroy, now Brisbane Lions), John So (Melbourne), Don Chipp (played for Fitzroy, now Carlton), Harry Barber (formerly Fitzroy, now Bulldogs), Jane Nathan (Melbourne and Hawthorn, because of her kids), Peter McMullin (Collingwood), Clem Newton-Brown (Hawthorn), Stephen Mayne (Richmond) and Peter Ferne (Bulldogs).
I'm scoring this a narrow victory to the Lions over the Christians on first preferences, 05
In theory, one could, or should, judge all the candidates on their policies and character. But in this case, they all seem to have the same policies. And we hope we have already established, beyond reasonable doubt, that all politicians have charisma and character akin to that of a cockroach.
Crikey would like to judge them on their websites, candidate statements, photographs, dress sense, psychological profiles and preferences but little of these are at hand so early in the campaign.
Honesty, integrity and principles are good catch-cries for the politician on the hustings but what the electors really want to know is which side are all the "stooges" on so they can factor them out of their ballot papers. They also want to know who is paying the piper (who is paying the real costs of the election campaign) and who is calling the tune (what PR firms are they using).
Although I slagged her in a recent piece for non-specific performance after the candidates non-press conference on Wednesday, Andrea Carson, the urban affairs editor from The Age, did contribute a significant story on Saturday about the "stooge" factor in this Clown Hall casino:
"An analysis of the list shows people on different tickets living at the same address. It shows husbands and wives running on the same team, such as wine bar owners Allan and Judy Watson. It shows husbands and wives on separate teams, such as Kimberley Kitching and Andrew Landeryou. And it shows Catherine Ng running on a John So-sponsored councillor ticket while her husband, Douglas Campbell, vies for lord mayor on the Melbourne independents ticket.
"It shows brothers lining up on opposite sides, such as Joseph Long with the United Suburbs of Melbourne team and James Long running for Melbourne City United. It shows an uncanny number of teams sharing the word United in their titles. Five in total. Some sounding more like a British football team than a lord mayoral ticket. Concerns have been raised that while most candidates are serious, others may be stooges. Some are there only to pass preferences to real candidates," said Carson.
Getting to the bottom of the three to thirty-something stooges among the 135 candidates for election will have to wait until the preference waters clear. Stooge candidates are bottom-feeders who rely on muddy waters to send their real preferences higher up the food chain to their ultimate owners.
Your correspondent has his suspicions about Kimberley Kitching's Fresh Start councillor team, her husband, Andrew Landeryou's (?) team and Peter McMullin's Living Melbourne team for several reasons. One is that all three candidates are ALP members and that Simon Crean is endorsing the comely Kimberley. Two, is that the phrase "Fresh Start" features very strongly in Peter McMullin's statement of intent in standing for election. Three, is this magnificent testimonial on Kimberley's artful dodger: "The first impression of Kimberley is that she is just too nice to be going into local politics."
Your correspondent couldn't agree more.
The Age's Andrea Carson quoted Brisbane's LM Jim Soorley on Saturday saying the only difference between the Melbourne and Brisbane council elections is that "Brisbane council is a party political system."
Neither the ALP nor the Liberal Party are directly endorsing candidates for the MCC but at least the Liberal-leaning Melbourne Civic Group are standing two tickets (business and residents) for council in their own name and not using the subterfuge of stooges, if that is what Fresh Start is?
On the question of electoral expenses, Peter Sheppard's Make Melbourne Shine ticket seem to be the only ones with the honesty and courage of their convictions. Sally Finlay, The Age's urban affairs reporter (not editor), quoted Sheppard last week saying he would spend at least $200,000 on his election campaign and that he would fund it himself (the other candidates on his ticket, kick-in the small change).
No one doubts Sheppard's ability to fund the wherewithal of his convictions, but many questions are being asked about Don "keeping-the-bastards-honest" Chipp's claim that his campaign (which has already included two half page ads in The Melbourne Times) will come out of this for only $2,000 from his fighting fund.
All the others are obviously either under-funded, undisclosed, underestimated or obtuse in their source of funding. A most unsatisfactory finding.
The battlefield spin doctors and media mangers named by Sally Finlay were Corporate Manoeuvres for Chipp, Weber Shandwick Worldwide and PG & JF for McMullin, Speechworks for Sheppard, Icon Art for So and Mediawise for Barber.
CPR Communications fulfill a mysterious role somewhere between Steve Bracks and Council CEO Michael Malouf.
Meanwhile, the first substantive issue of this MCC campaign was met head on by Peter McMullin late last week. Two weeks ago, LM candidate Peter Ferne claimed in The Sunday Herald Sun that Peter McMullin faced a potential conflict of interest because of his relationship to the Spotless Group of companies, which has contracts with the MCC worth about $47 million.
Your correspondent also queried this potential conflict of interest last week when he was not able to ask questions of the candidates at last Wednesday's non-press "press" conference and McMullin did a fine job of grandstanding and dancing on the grave of current Lord Mayor, Cr Peter Costigan.
At the time of the initial report, McMullin flatly denied any potential conflict of interest, saying he had sold his shares in Spotless, which his father, Ian McMullin, had founded in 1946.
The Sunday Herald Sun story said that Spotless was a major service provider to the City of Melbourne in catering, cleaning, street cleaning and parks and gardens maintenance. Spotless also caters for the town hall's food and liquor requirements.
The Sunday Herald Sun said that the MCC provided figures that portend to show that Spotless and associated companies had contracts with the council totalling $47,732,838 about a year ago. The contracts were for property maintenance services ($19,643,802), town hall venue management ($2,045,500), street cleaning ($15,839,536), management and maintenance of parks and gardens ($10,204,000).
The report said the majority of the contracts were awarded in 1999 and 2000-01 and their average value a year is more than $9 million. McMullin said he "had no connection at all with Spotless".
What McMullin did last week was to go on the front foot. He issued a news release, on June 22, saying that he had declared his pecuniary interests on his website and challenged other candidates to do likewise "to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and accountability."
"Mr McMullin said it was essential that a councillor acts and was seen to act independently, openly and without any potential for personal profit or loss. On the other hand, a register protected councillors against malicious rumor or gossip."
Let your correspondent be the first to congratulate Peter McMullin on his perceived transparency and honest. He has indeed set a standard that other candidates and councillors should, and must, follow.
His declaration on substantial family interests says: "My father is the founder and director of the Spotless Group of companies. I am not a shareholder."
However, my only question about this honesty and openness is how transparent is it?
Is there any possibility that Peter McMullin may be a beneficiary of his father, Ian's, estate?
Is there any possibility that Premac Nominees Pty Ltd, RJM Managers Pty Ltd or the Barnato Unit Trust, which Mr Peter McMullin has declared a beneficial interest in, may not also have a beneficial interest in the Spotless Group?
I don't know. All I know is that he barracks for Collingwood.